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Les Potter is currently the Assistant to the Superintendent (Educational Services Overseas Limited) in Egypt. He received his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Les has over 45 years...
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Dealing With a Conflict

Conflict between and among people is a fact of school life. Something that can be unpleasant at best but you will have to deal with conflict on an almost daily basis.

As the educational leader, constituents may want to talk to you about a conflict or problem they have with someone or a situation. Frequently, they just want to talk to someone about the problem and do not want you to do anything about it. They just want to talk about the conflict and may solicit your advice. You have two choices 1) just listen, give advice if you wish, and do nothing; 2) decide to investigate further to see if you can help solve the conflict. Some questioning strategies that can be used are the following:

  • Direct questions using how/what type questions that gain specific information about the conflict, for example, about wants, needs and feelings about the conflict.
  • Choice type questions where you give the other person a choice between two or more acceptable solutions to the conflict, for example, do you want to stay after school and work through this or stay in during lunch?
  • Self focused questions which put you on the spot, for instance, what do I need to do that will make the situation better? How can I help you?

Do not use questioning strategies that require a "yes" or "no" answer. This is the type of question often used by lawyers in a courtroom. The listener will become defensive and the conflict will probably not be resolved. Questions that are critical of the listener should also be avoided. You want to be a good and thoughtful listener. A third type of question that should be avoided are "why type" questions. Why questions force the listener to justify what they did. This makes one of the parties defensive and does not open up the line of communication.

Now do you want to get involved and help resolve the conflict? Leaders are good listeners and are hopefully impartial in conflict resolution. Certainly, if asked or it is necessary to get involved, you want to hear both sides of the story. Question for understanding, do not be judgemental. The resolution may be simple to you but to the two (or more) people in the conflict it may not seem that easy to resolve. Your role often will be as a mediator and hopefully all parties can see what is best for everyone. This would be for the better solution to the conflict. This does not always happen and you, as the leader, have to make a judgement after all sides are heard and careful deliberation.

Remember that most of the time you do not have to make a quick decision. You can ask for more time to think about it, get others involved and certainly ask for direction from a supervisor.

In a school situation, unfortunately, as the leader you will be acting as an umpire so whatever decision you make may upset one of the parties and you will have to continue to work with all parties concerned. Try not to make the outcome a winner and loser situation. Certainly use as much tack and compassion as you can.

Good luck!

Excerpts from the book: Enhancing a high-performing school culture and climate. Drs. Bulach, Lunenburg and Potter
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Les Potter, Ed.D
Former-director of the American International School Cairo Egypt
Currently-Assistant to the Superintendent Cairo Egypt
[email protected]